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Monday, October 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Boise

Idaho Liquor Division still making $$ off Washington buyers

Idaho’s state Liquor Division reports that its sales continue to see a big boost thanks to Washington having privatized liquor in 2012, driving up prices there and prompting more near-border customers to buy their booze across the state line in Idaho. Idaho Liquor Division sales were $143.9 million in fiscal year 2011; they hit $169 million in 2014, $179 million in 2015 and are projected to hit $185.7 million in the current year, fiscal year 2016. Next year, sales are forecast at $193.3 million, up 4.1 percent from this year.

Still, state Liquor Division Administrator Jeff Anderson told lawmakers, Idaho liquor consumption remains low. Once Washington sales are factored out, Idahoans consume 1.42 gallons of distilled spirits per capita each year, compared to a national average of 1.64 gallons. Even counting the sales to Washingtonians, Idaho would come in at 1.53 gallons.

The state Liquor Division estimates that 7 percent of its sales are to Washington state buyers.

Gov. Butch Otter is recommending a 4.9 percent increase in the Liquor Division’s budget next year, which doesn’t include any state general funds. The increases are largely for personnel costs, along with $375,000 for remodeling or relocating seven state liquor stores, in Boise, Caldwell, Jerome, Rupert, Twin Falls and Coeur d’Alene. Anderson told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee the division is focusing on getting the most out of its current stores rather than adding more; that includes making improvements or relocating when leases come due. With that approach, he said, “The current profit per store is 84 percent higher than it was a decade ago,” and profits per employee and sales per employee are “up significantly since 2010. … We forecast a payback in a little less than two years” on the store improvements.

The budget request also includes increasing the starting pay for temporary clerks at state liquor stores from the current $8.75 an hour to $10.10 per hour. Temporary workers aren’t subject to the statewide recommendation from the governor and lawmakers for 3 percent merit-based raises next year for state employees. Anderson said the Liquor Division must compete with convenience stores and other retailers for those temporary clerks; that budget item is for less than $100,000.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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